The search to replace ousted FBI Director James Comey will “begin immediately,” the White House said in a statement Tuesday. But the exact timeline for replacing Comey remains unclear.
Officials confirmed to PBS NewsHour that Andrew McCabe, who Comey selected as his deputy in January, will become the acting director of the bureau. McCabe joined the FBI in 1996.
Speculation in Washington on who might replace Comey permanently started shortly after President Donald Trump fired the FBI director Tuesday evening. Several Republicans lawmakers and analysts called on Mr. Trump to choose someone with a reputation for independence and professionalism.
“Given the recent controversies surrounding the director, I believe a fresh start will serve the FBI and the nation well,” Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said in a statement. “I encourage the President to select the most qualified professional available who will serve our nation’s interests.”
Trump could move swiftly to nominate his replacement, as he did after firing Michael Flynn as national security adviser on Feb. 13. Trump named retired Lt. Gen. Joseph Kellogg as acting national security adviser the same day.
Four days later, Trump wrote in a Twitter post that Kellogg and three other candidates were “very much in play” to become the permanent national security adviser. The rumored shortlist also included former CIA Director David Petraeus. But three days after that, on Feb. 20, Trump appointed H.R. McMaster to the position, which does not require Senate confirmation.
The process for replacing Comey could take longer, because the FBI director must be confirmed by the Senate. Comey’s replacement needs 51 votes to pass under current Senate rules for executive branch nominees. Senate Republicans hold a 52-48 majority in the upper chamber.
Traditionally, the Senate confirmation process for FBI director nominees has been bipartisan. Before Comey, every nominee to lead the agency was confirmed unanimously, or without any “no” votes.
But the tradition showed signs of cracking in 2013, when Comey was confirmed on a 93-1 vote. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., cast the lone “no” vote — it was the first time a senator had voted against an FBI director nominee.
It’s possible that Comey’s replacement could face opposition in the Senate, depending on how Senate Democrats decide to proceed. Several of Trump’s cabinet nominations, along with Neil Gorsuch, his Supreme Court pick, faced a tough time in the Senate, though all were eventually confirmed.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., the top Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, struck a bipartisan tone Tuesday.
“The next FBI director must be strong and independent and will receive a fair hearing in the Judiciary Committee,” Feinstein said in a statement.